By Sonya Rehman
In June, Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA) militants bombed and attacked the home of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah – the Founding Father of Pakistan.
Situated in Ziarat, and well-known for its Juniper forest (the second largest in the world), the beautiful, picturesque home, with its quaint wooden exterior, stood as an integral part of the country’s heritage. It was where Pakistan’s founder spent his last days. The attack, which destroyed the residence, came as a huge blow to the nation. The tragedy was an uncomfortable and distressing reminder of Pakistan’s unstable state of security.
The incident has also highlighted the country’s fast-deteriorating tourism industry. Speaking with The Express Tribune, Babar Yaqub, Chief Secretary of Balochistan stated: “It was an undisputed structure. It had never received any threat in the past. Local people had special love for this site because it had been attracting local and foreign tourists.”
Within days of the unfortunate event, nine foreign tourists were murdered by terrorists on the Himalayan peak of Nanga Parbat (the ninth highest mountain in the world at 8,125 meters), in the province of Gilgit-Baltistan, in northern Pakistan. According to DAWN, the victims included five Ukrainians, three Chinese, and a Russian, as well as one of the group’s two Pakistani guides, who were all killed at the Diamer base camp. However, there have been conflicting reports about the exact number of victims and their nationalities in both local and foreign news reports.
Disputes over exact numbers and nationalities aside, the incident has been one of the most grisly and catastrophic events to hit Pakistan’s already suffering tourism industry, reinforcing the country’s shattered image of a wild, lawless land to the outside world.
Speaking with The Diplomat, Shiraz Nasir, Director of Operations for Adventure Travel Pakistan (ATP), said the tragic incident is bound to grossly affect the number of foreign tourists hoping to visit Pakistan.
“It took us twelve years after 9/11 to achieve a record number of international tourists coming in to Pakistan. Then this incident happened,” Nasir said. “Now it’s a great challenge for our domestic market to take things forward and revive tourism in Pakistan. We need promotional and awareness campaigns to rebuild our tourism industry.”
“Pakistan is a unique country,” Nasir added, “It has all four seasons and all types of terrain from deserts to the sea, the highest mountain ranges to some of the longest non-polar glaciers in the world. In my opinion, the potential of Pakistan’s tourism industry is sky high.”
In an article for DAWN, the President of the Sustainable Tourism Foundation Pakistan (STFP), Aftabur Rehman Rana, stated that for the Pakistani tourism industry to establish a solid foundation, a “good tourism policy” and “full government backing” are key.
In his article, Rana writes: “We can easily defeat terrorism with tourism by creating income and employment generation opportunities for the insolvent people of far flung areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and Gilgit-Baltistan where there are no other industries to support their livelihoods.”
Rana continues: “By developing the tourism industry, other businesses such as hotels, restaurants, transport, handicrafts, shopping, local recreational spots and local entrepreneurs get simultaneously boosted and it creates thousands of new jobs for unskilled and skilled workforce.”
This April, I interviewed Nazir Sabir, the first Pakistani to have scaled Mount Everest, a feat he achieved in 2000. Towards the end of the interview, Sabir passionately said that he considered Pakistan “the best kept secret in the Asian region.” A renowned mountaineer and trekker, Sabir told me that last year, “there were almost 55 mountaineering expeditions and hundreds and thousands of trekkers coming to Pakistan.”
Despite the country’s dilapidated, struggling tourism industry today, Pakistan once enjoyed a reputation as being one of the most popular tourist spots in the world. According to DAWN, the tourism industry in Pakistan reached its peak in the mid-1970s. It was then, during the local industry’s heyday, that the Pakistani government declared tourism an “industry.” This led to the making of a special tourism stamp in commemoration of Pakistan’s thriving tourism scene. Also, fascinatingly enough, Pakistan even made it to the cover of one of National Geographic’s issues in 1967!
In a recent, poignant turn of events, five Romanian mountaineers successfully scaled Nanga Parbat. They were lucky; their camp was guarded by ten Pakistani security guards. They’d also chosen a different route.
While the country’s potential for a thriving and exciting tourism industry remains apparent, one hopes that the newly elected government will finally aid in the development of tourism and recreation, bringing to light the brilliant facets of a nation that Sabir has called Asia’s best kept secret.
The Diplomat Magazine